What Is an Apostle?

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Definition of Apostle

An apostle was one of Jesus Christ's 12 closest disciples, chosen by him early in his ministry to spread the gospel after his death and resurrection. In the Bible, they are called Jesus' disciples until the Lord's ascension into heaven, then they are referred to as apostles.

"These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him." (Matthew 10:2-4, NIV)

Jesus assigned these men specific duties before his crucifixion, but it was only after his resurrection--when their discipleship had been completed--that he appointed them fully as apostles. By then Judas Iscariot had hanged himself, and was later replaced by Matthias, who was chosen by lot (Acts 1:15-26).

An Apostle Is One Who Is Commissioned

The term apostle was used in a second way in Scripture, as one who was commissioned and sent by a community to preach the gospel. Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians who was converted when he had a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, is also called an apostle. We know him as the Apostle Paul.

Paul's commission was similar to that of the 12 apostles, and his ministry, like theirs, was guided by God's gracious leading and anointing. Paul, the last person to witness an appearance of Jesus after his resurrection, is considered the last of the chosen apostles.

Limited details are given in the Bible of the apostles' ongoing evangelistic work, but tradition holds that all of them, except John, died martyrs' deaths for their faith.

The word apostle is derived from the Greek apostolos, meaning "one who is sent." A modern-day apostle would typically function as a church planter—one who is sent out by the body of Christ to spread the gospel and establish new communities of believers.

Jesus Sent Out the Apostles in Scripture

Mark 6:7-13
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, "Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. (ESV)

Luke 9:1-6
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them." And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.


Matthew 28:16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (ESV)

Pronunciation: uh POS ull

Also Known As: The Twelve, messenger.


The Apostle Paul spread the gospel to the gentiles throughout the Mediterranean.

(Sources: The New Compact Bible Dictionary, edited by T. Alton Bryant, and the Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns.)